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Pulling out of Germany: Trump Adjusts the Military Furniture

One noisy theme in the Donald Trump Disruption Show in an otherwise chaotic assemblage of messages has remained fairly constant: winding back US troop commitments. The US has fought its complement of wars, bloodied and bloodying. Time to up stakes and head home. It was a message that sold in 2016 across the aisles of politics, and it is one that continues to resonate. But the practice of it has proven murkier. Nothing this president does can be otherwise. The US military complex remains sprawling, overweight and defiant. As a result, the military footprint has been not so much dissipated as readjusted.

President Trump’s recent decision to move troops out of Germany is a case in point. Those wishing for a trimmer, less militarist imperium will be disappointed. The shifting of 11,900 US personnel out of the country is seemingly a matter of rearrangement and fitting. The imperium is merely adjusting the furniture.

US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper gave the decision a tactical dress. The redeployment would, contrary to critics, strengthen NATO, deter Russia and ready the US military for “a new era of great power competition.” This realignment of “our forces in Europe” would “support our partners and stand up to military adversary behaviour.”

Of the designated number, 6,400 will return to the US. These are intended for future redeployment in Eastern Europe and elsewhere while 5,600 are destined for Belgium, Italy and other NATO countries. Instead of coating the decision in the carefully chosen doublespeak of strategy, Trump was reliably cranky in justification. As he explained, the troops “are there to protect Germany, right? Germany’s not paying for it. We don’t want to be suckers any more. The United States has been taken advantage of for 25 years, both on trade and on the military. So we’re reducing the force because they are not paying their bills.”

This was something of a stretch – and a very elastic one at that. The gripe Trump and his circle have had since coming to office is that powers such as Germany simply do not spend enough on defence, while happy-go-lucky chauvinist states like Poland, do. In June last year, Trump suggested the possibility of moving US troops to Poland from Germany, while the Polish President Andrzej Duda felt “deeply justified to ensure that the US troops are left in Europe.” US ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher, forgetting her diplomatic posting, added a dash of one-upmanship. “Poland meets its 2% of GDP spending obligation towards NATO. Germany does not. We would welcome American troops to in Germany to come to Poland.”


In August 2019, then US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, very much the fly in the ointment of US-German relations, warned that some form of withdrawal, either total or partial, would take place unless an increase in defence spending took place. As he is reported to have told the DPA news agency, “It is actually offensive to assume that the US taxpayer must continue to pay to have 50,000 plus Americans in Germany, but the Germans get to spend their surplus on domestic programs.”

The current percentage of German military spending as a share of GDP is 1.5%. Washington continues to press for the threshold of 2%. Ironically enough, US troop redeployments will take place largely to countries with levels of expenditure even lower than Germany. Italy comes in at 1.2%; Belgium, a pinch under 1%. The military spenders in Poland will be disappointed.

Whatever the substance of the decision, such reorientations struck the security establishment on both sides of the Atlantic as something nearing treachery. When the president floated the idea of reducing the troop numbers last month, there were protesting squeals and calls of warning. The Big Bully parent was abandoning its adoptees and advertising that fact. “President Donald J. Trump’s order to withdraw nearly ten thousand troops from Germany betrays a close ally, undermines confidence in Washington, and makes Europe and the United States less safe,” suggested Philip Gordon of the Council of Foreign Relations. “By questioning the sanctity of the US defence guarantee in Europe, treating NATO as a protection racket, and unilaterally diminishing America’s ability to uphold that guarantee,” Gordon continues to fuss that, “Trump is effectively signalling that an attack on a NATO ally would not necessarily be met with a US response.” An imaginative reading, if ever there was one.

Various German politicians, weaned on the narrative that a Germany with a US garrison is far better than a Germany without, were also shaken. Norbert Röttgen of the Bundestag and chair of the German parliament’s foreign policy committee expressed his views through the Funke Media Group. He could see no “factual reason for the withdrawal” and doing so was “very regrettable”. Johann Wadephul, deputy chairman of the parliamentary caucus of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right Union bloc, was similarly unimpressed. The decision to remove such numbers of US troops from Germany without consulting NATO allies “shows once again that the Trump administration is neglecting basic leadership tasks.” Merkel’s transatlantic coordinator Peter Beyer was similarly aggrieved. “This is completely unacceptable, especially since nobody in Washington thought about informing its NATO ally Germany in advance.”

Their shock suggested the sinking of an idea: that the hegemon, the superpower, is obligated to consult those whose territory it chooses to use, whose grounds it decided to occupy or leave for vague reasons of security. Daddy should listen.

Emily Haber, Germany’s ambassador to Washington, is keen that should happen, sending out messages of sweet reassurance that US troops had “become neighbours, friends, partners and friends while protecting transatlantic security and projecting American power and interests globally.”

Notwithstanding the inconsistencies in the move, the logic of garrisoning such a large number of troops in Germany has not struck some pundits as particularly sound. Being of the Cato Institute, which does, from time to time, evoke a sensible sentiment with regards imperial overstretch, Ted Galen Carpenter assured opponents of Trump’s decision that they “look at the calendar. It reads 2020, not 1950 or even 1989. There is no totalitarian threat, and the Red Army is not poised to pour through the Fulda Gap in Germany and try to sweep the Atlantic.”

Exaggerating the Russian threat, however, is a long-standing tradition that has made funding military budgets and keeping US troops in place over the globe a fundamental, if fictional necessity. Not even Trump has succeeded in dousing that paranoid passion.

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  1. Jack Cade

    Perhaps President Fart is pulling troops back to the USA in anticipation of a civil war.

  2. Phil Pryor

    You can rely on Trump to be unreliable, for perversities and inaccurate navigation of life are his delights, specialities. Not knowing history, military matters, diplomacy, economics, sociology, geography, correct calculation and most professional skills gives the Donny Dud a deviousness, dickheadery and deficiency to make others envious, village idiots and unemployed clowns perhaps. A new realignment of European forces based on decent strategic considerations, not merely military, tend to make the USA and its Ace Goat the odour of the age in international affairs, for mastery is needed, not niggling nastiness. Trump to Merkel is as a pebble to the Rockies…meanwhile, our Vlad, the premier Putin, reinforces his imperious Tsarist Self…

  3. Michael Taylor

    Dr Binoy, I love this opener:

    One noisy theme in the Donald Trump Disruption Show in an otherwise chaotic assemblage of messages…


  4. Andrew Smith

    Good read, the nativist reactionaries and grifters in the Trump administration, and Anglo world enablers e.g. NewsCorp, seem more about creating disruption in and/or antipathy towards Europe, the EU and NATO to satisfy special interests but present it as some form of existential crisis.

    Their underlying ideological issue is that the ‘supranational’ bodies such as EU, NATO etc. are constraining Anglo exceptionalism, hence, must be avoided (aka Brexit), disrupted by Trump administration initiatives or denigrated by NewsCorp. With the latter it is exemplified by their own journalists, especially conservative political activist Greg Sheridan.

    An article in The Australian from 2017 on Germany’s election and Merkel (conservative Christian with leadership qualities and broad approval amongst German citizens):

    ‘Angela Merkel is set to win Sunday’s German elections, according to the polls. She will enter a fourth term as Chancellor and rival Helmut Kohl. But whereas Kohl paved the way for German unification, Merkel’s ultimate ­account before history is much more dubious. The polls also ­suggest that the far right, anti-EU, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany could win 100 seats.

    But the bigger story is this: Merkel may well be the chief agent of Europe’s demise…..

    (then channels another Anglo conservative Douglas Murray)….Murray is concerned with two interlocking dynamics. The first is the huge waves of unskilled ­Islamic immigrants who have swept over Europe. The second is the collapse of European civilisational self-belief. At the level of ­official ideology, Europe hates ­itself. Its official love of the EU is in part a postmodern ­vehicle by which to dismiss and denigrate European history.’

    Full article here https://twitter.com/australian/status/910656423033397248

    Last year Alexander Downer’s two bob’s worth on EU and Europe regarding Brexit:

    ‘If there is a no-deal Brexit, then Brussels is to blame. Dealing with the EU just confirms the arrogance, inflexibility and lack of common sense that now threatens a hard departure for the UK, writes Alexander Downer.’


    Not only do both follow and promote the Trump administration line, they do approve of some (fringe) nations in Europe, especially Hungary…..where they have visited along with Tony Abbott and Kevin Andrews. More evidence that Australian MPs, LNP government, media and commentariat seem more interested in promoting a disruptive and reactionary Steve Bannon view of the world, centred round Anglo or white Christian nationalist, but US led, exceptionalism, as the US’s influence declines…..

  5. Jack Cade

    The USA is busily alienating most of the world, including the EU, Russia, China, large sections of South America, all to little benefit for the USA. And in doing the full Lewinsky we seem to to have crawled under the wrong desk. I don’t know what benefits our infatuation with the US has actually brought us. All we have to show for it is our participation in several dreadful and unjustifiable wars, and the hatred of much of the Middle East, plus billions of $ spent on US aircraft that the US airforce didn’t want.
    As the Yanks say – (and it’s a Yankism I loathe ) – go figure.

  6. Michael Taylor

    They’re fast becoming a rogue state, Jack.

  7. wam

    The slightest thought of trump would certainly drown any passion. This paranoia must powerful stuff to stay hot with trump pissing uncontrollably, at times into the wind,but a whole education system reinforcing a morbid fear of socialism and a gun mentality bases are a way of life. I wonder how much the septic screw out of the countries who harbour the US forces???

  8. LOVO

    In 5 to 10 yrs China will be the richest most powerful country in the world. …in 10 to 20yrs India will be the 2nd richest most powerful country in the world…. tthen will follow the European block in 3rd place soonish after.
    The U.S., if’n it doesn’t implode beforehand , will be in 4th place….but only if 1, 2 ‘n 3 agree…or to put it another way, Trump’s legacy will be ‘a’ swamped…..and yet…
    Australia’s path can only be that of a ball licker or an example of ‘how to be’.. or not…. 🙄
    Strange day’s indeed
    Most unusual mama…
    (Apologies for any unintended intemperence)

  9. Jack Cade


    In the Dark Ages the Britons enlisted the help of Saxon mercenaries Hengist and Horsa against the Viking hordes.
    When the danger seemed to have passed, the Britons said ‘Thank you, you can go now.’
    H and H said – presumably in Anglo-Saxon- ‘Screw you – we like it here. Your country is now our country.’
    That’s what the US would say to countries too small to fight back.

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